IS it genuine heritage value aboriginal art or a sneaky fake in the area sought for a controversial mine project north of Lithgow?
Lobbyists campaigning against revival of the already rejected project claim that two separate archaeological surveys have now verified the authenticity of an aboriginal art site in Ben Bullen State Forest.
The currently insolvent coal mining company, Coalpac, recently asserted that a hand stencil found in a cave within the area that is proposed to be mined was perhaps only 3.5 years old.
Now one survey has been undertaken by the Office of the Environment and Heritage, the determining authority on Aboriginal Heritage issues.
The other was performed by Jackson Ward Archaeology, an independent archaeological consultancy commissioned to survey the site by Blue Mountains Conservation Society. Jackson Ward Archaeology has extensive experience in Blue Mountains Aboriginal heritage assessments.
A spokesperson for the lobbyists said that in addition to the contested original white hand stencil, the surveyors identified numerous other hand stencils, as well as chert stone tools that were found on the floor of the cave.
The surveys also resulted in aboriginal stone tools being found in another rock shelter in the vicinity.
The archaeological surveyors considered the sites were authentic, including the white hand stencil originally questioned, and have registered them with the appropriate aboriginal heritage registries.
Dr Richard Stiles, local doctor and President of the Lithgow Environment Group, said: “These sites were only found because local community members independently surveyed the Coalpac area.
Coalpac initially stated there were no aboriginal heritage sites in its DA.
“It is of real concern that when the sites were reported, Coalpac’s archaeological consultant suggested the art was not authentic.
This was portrayed to the media in a fashion that tried to discredit the groups that found the sites.
“This is not the first time that Coalpac’s reports have been found to be deficient, Dr Stiles said.
He said that in its ‘Consolidation’ proposal, that was rejected by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, whole communities of endangered plant species were left out of their survey reports.
These deficiencies were only uncovered when community groups did their own surveys.
“Coalpac has now repeatedly shown its assessment practices to be substandard.
This raises significant concern about the reliability of their reports.
It also raises concerns about the practice of miners hiring their own consultants.
This practice inevitably leads to conflict of interest issues.”
Auntie Helen Riley, elder of the local Mingaan Wiradjuri Aboriginal Corporation, notes that this is an area rich in aboriginal history.
“There are many sites of aboriginal significance in this region.
So it comes as no surprise to me that aboriginal art sites have been found in this location”
“It is unacceptable for Coalpac’s reports to give the wrong information about the aboriginal heritage sites in the area of their proposed mine”, says Auntie Riley.
“We need to ensure our cultural heritage values are respected and preserved for future generations and to sustain a healthy environment.”
“Mining companies should be required to discuss with the local aboriginal groups when mining on their land. Instead, as has happened in this region, they pay outside groups in order to get their plans approved. This is an abuse of proper aboriginal protocols.